West Ham were thrashed by Manchester City at the Etihad, but Sunderland are in with a shot at the League Cup final.
The two semi-finals of England’s secondary cup competition feature interesting participants this term.
Included are the two Manchester giants – the traditionally weaker nouveau-riche on the up whilst United look in freefall – and the Premier League’s bottom two sides.
Matters in Mancunia aside, that’s two relegation candidates vying for a place in Europe.
But Sunderland are flush with hope on the other hand. Fabio Borini’s second straight League Cup late heroics saw off United 2-1, this after the Italian disposed of former employers Chelsea with Ki Sung-Yeung’s aid last month.
The real focus is that – for the second straight year – England could send a second division envoy to the Europa League come 2014-15.
Should Sunderland indeed reach the final, they’ll beyond doubt face the Citizens as the Latics did – albeit an entirely more ravenous version.
For argument’s sake, however, say Gus Poyet’s men do triumph and simultaneously meet a fate of relegation to the Championship.
A pyrrhic victory it would be, one could contend. Wigan certainly have no guarantees of a quick return to the top flight, sitting in 11th in the second division at present – having had to cope with a packed fixture list in part to Europa League commitments.
Birmingham City were relegated from the Premier League in the 2011-12 under the same circumstances – League Cup champions – and relegated in the same year.
Sure, lifting silverware would provide consolation to Sunderland, but could in the end prove a hindrance to getting back to the top flight should they be relegated.
Enough first division sides already regard the Europa League as a nuisance – so imagine the effects on a Championship side that must play 46 domestic games, all whilst looking for promotion after losing Premier League television revenues. It certainly didn't help Birmingham in their 'bounce-back' season, and they have remained in the division ever since.
Parachute payments have increased for this season – but nonetheless dropping down still has its deleterious repercussions and there are no certainties.
An intriguing trend seems to have kicked off, possibly occurring in three of the last four terms.
What a concept it is – a trophy possibly causing more damage than good in the long term.
A larger spread of data will be needed to test the true effects, but keep an eye out, because at the current rate more examples could be on the way.
image: © stephoto27